[From Glen] The following, from Paul, was too long for this fascinating thread, but it's also too good not to post in its own right. (Please refer to these older comments if you're not sure what Paul is referring to)...
First, Chris, the wedding ring analogy is very helpful. Yes, we need to be within the relationship with Christ to understand the significance of the heavens and the earth. On their own, out of the context of marriage to the Son in the fellowship of the Spirit to the glory of the Father, all the many details of the universe could be viewed as nothing but just one thing after another, especially if we are materialistic reductionists.
Second, the tabernacle point from Glen is helpful too. The connection between the tabernacle/temple and the whole creation is common throughout the Bible. The tabernacle was given by the LORD God to be a kind of “pocket-sized map” of the heavens and the earth - a multi-media microcosm with verbal explanations. I wonder what a person might make of a replica tabernacle even today if they had no contact with the Bible. They might study all the different features of it - from the embroidered curtains to the gold-plated wood, from the altar to the ark of the covenant. Perhaps they might think it was an elaborate barbecue set-up with some kind of family-sized tent for sleeping it off. Who knows? Without the proper relationship with the Designer, and His explanations of it, nobody could make any sense of it.
Although all the many features of the tabernacle were intended by the author to convey meaning, to embody truth, to illustrate eternal realities, yet none of these can be really seen or heard unless there are eyes to see and ears to hear - unless there is a relationship to the Designer with a knowledge of His written explanations. [It is interesting how Jesus repeatedly states how only those with ears to hear may understand what He is saying. His parables could sound like nothing more than short stories without the awareness and appreciation of the deeper message that lies behind them]. Until we have been redeemed by His mighty saving power; until He has opened our eyes and raised us from the dead we cannot begin to really appreciate His handiwork as the author intended.
There used to be a series on TV where the camera would go around an anonymous celebrities house and based on the features that the camera suggestively lingered over, the identity of the owner had to be guessed. Without knowing the owner all the different features might seem strange or odd, but when they were revealed at the end, all the different features made sense and we could all breath a kind of “aha” as we realised why they had that kind of furniture, with that wallpaper, with those paintings and with that kind of kitchen. I think it was called “Through the Keyhole”.
In that same way, the Eternal Word has designed and decorated the heavens and the earth in His own style, imprinted with His own character, as an expression of the invisible Father. On their own, out of context [viewed from ‘outside’ in that CS Lewis sense] all the details of creation are just an overwhelming collection of details. They can be related to each other to a degree so that we may build up something of an account of the mechanisms and structure of the whole, but the meaning and “authorial intent” of the decor is missed... UNLESS we know the ‘celebrity owner’ and have His own written account of His character and ways. THEN we constantly look about the ‘house’ and recognise all kinds of things as being “just like Him”. On the original TV programme, after the secret identity is revealed, people would say things like “Oh, yes, it is just like her to have that kind of wallpaper and that rug in her bathroom” or “after what happened to him that year, we can see why he had that photo on the wall” etc.
In just this way, after we come to know the LORD Jesus Christ and as the spectacles of Scripture give us better and better vision of reality, so we can begin to see the whole creation in that way - “oh, it is just like Christ to make the trees in that way and the stars like that” or “given what happened to Him, we can see why He designed seeds to be like that”.
In other words, the non-Christian who does not know the LORD Jesus Christ or the Scriptures of course cannot make any sense of all these things... but that is precisely why the judgement falls upon us as a sinful, ignorant race. We were designed to know Him and we were created in the Garden of God in a gracious relationship of love and openness. The fact that we have lost this position is the reason that we no longer have that constant sense of “aha, it is so like Him to make moss, rocks, fish, birds, clouds, grass, arms, hair, water, gravity etc etc like that”.
I think this is why there never can be a natural theology and why we really must say “No!” to it at every point. A natural theology attempts to build a knowledge of God on some kind of ‘neutral’ ground or common point of contact that tries to begin without the ‘special revelation’ or redemption of Jesus Christ. Obviously this is absurd and offensive. As Barth says, we do not need to establish a point of contact because that has already been done in Jesus. So the idea of an ‘a priori’ natural theology must be firmly rejected, but the idea of an ‘a posteriori’ theology of nature or appreciation of the LORD Jesus Christ in creation is required.
At the risk of quoting myself, last January there was a post here concerning Divine Simplicity that has some relevance. Towards the conclusion of that it was suggested that the “Eternal, Divine Logos is the One through whom all things were made. His ‘logic’ is written into the very fabric of the universe. The universe is not a distraction from the life of the Trinity, but a manifestation of that life through the Son. The life of the Divine Logos is “the light of men.” Our lives are always illuminated by Him. Although we cannot exhaustively comprehend the life of the Trinity, yet we can truly know the divine life because we have been created through the Logos and He still ‘shines’ upon us. He is [John 1:9] the “True Light that gives light to every man.” Those that despair of human minds knowing anything of the inner life of the Trinity must take refuge in the Divine Logos, in Jesus of Nazareth.”
The world is not a neutral setting but it was designed from the very beginning to be the everlasting home of righteousness [2 Peter 3], when the Father Himself will come down from the highest heaven to dwell with His people [Revelation 21:1-4]. The Garden of Eden was nothing less than the Garden of God [Ezekiel 28:13; 31:8] because it was all designed to be the eternal home of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit centred on the marriage of the Son to the Church.
The reason that the Physiologus is such a beautiful work is not that the animals are so accurately understood - because some of the accounts are very inaccurate indeed. It is a fascinating work of Christian thought because it essentially tries to think through what the LORD Jesus Christ might have had in mind when creating all these different creatures. Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful book, Chris, with the links to Peter Harrison’s work.
[I’m still thinking through his overall argument about the rise of modern science - which was my post-doctoral research - but his material is packed with treasures. I wonder if the weakness of the Physiologus is the lack of a proper examination of and appreciation of the world in its own inter-relatedness (as Colin Gunton might say). If the ancients rushed from a superficial examination of the world to an in-depth analysis of the cosmic meaning and the moderns tend to stick with an in-depth analysis of the world and refuse to examine the cosmic meaning, then yes, we need a robust science and also a robust cosmic Christology. The Reformers are right to insist on a more literal examination and appreciation of the text of Scripture but if they thereby reject the original authorial intent to also speak about the deep gospel/theological themes then there is a real loss. With some of the Puritans we obviously get something of a recovery of the earlier perspective but with more of the Reformation appreciation of grammatico-historical study. Peter Harrison’s work is fascinating. If you haven’t clicked to Chris Oldfield’s site with Peter’s two papers... please have a look this very weekend].
Job 12:7-9 - “ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?”
In Job chapters 38-41 onwards, we have that wonderful confrontation between the LORD and Job. The LORD lists so many features of the creation that display His character and ways - even noting how the dawn is designed to shake out the wicked or the lack of good sense in the ostrich is balanced by her great speed.
The deep issue is not whether we may use these things as illustrations of our own beliefs about the Living God, but whether He was already set these things as illustrations of His own character and ways. When Jesus indicates the rain, sun, seeds, flowers or birds as presentations of His own teaching, He is speaking as the very One who actually designed all these things in the beginning. They are just as they are because He says that they are so. In that sense, Jesus references to the creation are inter-textual references - whereby He refers to what He has already displayed/spoken in His other Book. The fact that He is the Lamb slain from before the foundations of the earth and that the whole creation will eternally praise Him for His atoning death means that it is no great surprise to see how from the very beginning He sprinkled expressions of this great work throughout the heavens and the earth.
George Robinson still strikes a chord with his classic hymn of 1876. The whole world looks different to us when we love the LORD Jesus and learn more and more about Him because we know the Designer and appreciate how His character and works are reflected throughout the creation.
Heav’n above is softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow, flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know, I am His, and He is mine.